While the Himalayas up north work like a charm for adventure seekers, overcrowding in recent years has deeply altered the region. In 2021, let the mighty peaks breathe and plan some low carbon footprint adventures in the Sahyadris of Maharashtra—sans the tourists and hefty bills. Sandwiched between the Deccan plateau to the east and the Konkan strip to the west, the picturesque range is ideal for short cycling and trekking getaways.
Take on the challenge of the Panshet Parikrama, the 160-kilometre cycling expedition organised by RAW Adventure Solutions over two days in January. Bike through winding mountain passes and dirt tracks en route the Panshet reservoir near Pune, and then camp overnight by the lakeside. The highlight? A morning bike ride along the rim of the reservoir, just as the first rays of the sun set Panshet’s waters aglitter.
Alternatively, mountain junkies can scramble their way up the peaks of Kalsubai and Alang-Madan-Kudang, hike through the craggy water-carved canyon at Sandhan Valley, or scale the sheer cliffs of medieval hill forts like Dhodap and Harishchandragad for a no-frills trekking adventure.
Every year, RAW also organises an epic, nine-day road trip from north to south Maharashtra through the Sahyadris. Panoramic views of the Arabian Sea stretch out to your right as you weave in and out the densely forested hills—an introduction like no other to the bounty of the Sahyadris and Konkan.
RAW Adventure Solutions’ Panshet Parikrama is an overnight trip starting from Rs3,500 per person. Trekking trips start from Rs1,200, and the road trip from Rs20,000, rawadventuresolutions.com.
After winning the ‘Cleanest City of India’ tag several years in a row, residents of Indore have set their sights on a new tag: being the most cycle-friendly city in the country. While there were always enthusiasts and randonneurs (expert long-distance cyclists) in the city, the pandemic has given rise to a cycling frenzy—with people of all ages and genders hitting the road, and a long waiting in stores to purchase cycles. “The last time I cycled was when I was in school, and now I cycle over 50 kilometres in one go,” says Farzana Arif, owner of Titles N Chapters library, Indore. “We meet someone new on the road every day, and my favourite is the group of older gents who wave us on and cycle with name stickers which include their emergency contact details and blood group,” she adds. There are also several virtual cyclathons, and the city administration is encouraging citizens to make the two-wheeler a part of everyday transit with the #Cycles4Change movement. As the lockdown didn’t allow for public transport, the 12-kilometre-long BRTS (City Bus) special corridor running through the city became a cyclist and jogger hotspot. Now, cyclists have permission to stay in the lane till 8 a.m. Other cycle-friendly morning trails include Ring Road, MR 10, and the Bypass. And on weekends? “You’ll find several groups, including ours, hitting scenic spots such as Tincha Falls, Mhow, Hathyari Khoh and Mohadi Falls,” signs off Arif.
From the spice plantations of Ponda to the mesmerising manors and cottages of Nerul, Goa is loaded with great cycling routes. The state’s network of ideal rides, however, often have the drawback of a few high-density junctions, dotting the otherwise sparsely traversed lanes. In these brief sections of high-traffic areas, wearing a mask is especially advisable. Yet, while huffing and puffing in the coastal heat, wearing a mask for a decent spin can be rather taxing for the average cyclist, which is why e-cycles offer a helpful solution. When bottlenecks occur, riders can let the machines take over, relaxing their level of exertion so that donning their mask does not encumber their ability to navigate the traffic safely.
Purchasing such a machine can be expensive, which is where b:live, an e-cycling rental operation that has partnered with the Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC), comes in handy. The outfit has implemented pandemic protocols to adapt their 15 Goa-based, e-cycling experiences and tours, so that their services now include entirely socially distanced private tours with masks and other hygiene protocols. Their trails will lead you to velveteen villages in Benaulim or Cavelossim, heritage houses of Old Goa, and hush-hush food haunts along the bay. The e-bikes feature GPS systems, and one charge can last a bike up to a distance for 50 kilometres at a top speed of 25 kilometres on the throttle—suffice to say, they are a breeze on the breathing.
Tours from Rs2000, www.blive.co.in
Puducherry is no stranger to compliments. Kind words are often spoken of its fine, French fare and fusion, or of its de rigueur, teak doorways that dam floods of courtyard greenery grasping at the pavement. But a true treasure, one that lives in both the old Colonial and Tamil quarters, is its cycling culture. It seems almost everyone in this coastal cradle is capable of riding a cycle, and many do so on a regular basis. From daily commuters to an exceptional number of groups and tours, the people of Pondi pedal, perhaps more avidly than the citizenry of anywhere else in India.
Enthusiasts can freewheel from the fishing village of Kuruchikuppam to Old Lighthouse on Beach Road and the New Lighthouse tucked in the Duppuypet locality for an easy four kilometre coastal jaunt. Another relaxed ride is a two kilometre sally to the 16th century Sri Kamakshi Amman Temple (Hindu Quarter) to Meerapalli an early 18th century mosque (Muslim Quarter) to the late 18th century Immaculate Conception Cathedral (French Quarter). Those looking for a more ambitious ride should venture to Auroville, explore the area’s bucolic ochre trails, and bike back to Pondi, a minimum of a 30-kilometre ride.
Beyond the charm of its languorous lanes, the most pleasing aspect of the area may be the visibly equal ratio of female-to-male cyclists. There, saris are often bought to match the colour of one’s ride. The sight of draped pastels rippling past deco buildings of similar brilliance is not some exotic happenstance—it’s comme il faut of this corner of the world, a common occurrence in a beautiful place that begs to be bicycled.
‘How to Travel Better in 2021’ is a comprehensive list of Indian destinations worth exploring in the coming year, and has been reported by the editors and contributing writers of National Geographic Traveller India. Read all the entries on our digital forum or the National Geographic Traveller India app.